Character and Intent in Native Son

Wright’s How Bigger Was Born section of Native Son is remarkably in line with a good amount of the critiques brought up in class and in previous reflections. I was particularly interested to see if Wright would address or anticipate some of those critiques. He does, and in doing so, Wright revealed what I think is a very prevalent theme in how Native Son is presented.

Wright completely dismisses any opinion contrary to his own. Several sections of How Bigger Was Born were particularly striking, namely “I felt with all of my being that he was more important than what any person, white or black, would say or try to make of him” (450). That is Wright’s only addressal of the complaint that he paints a bleak picture of Black identity. That is a woefully inadequate position, because Wright seems to be dismissing the very experience of the reader, which is, in basic terms, the point of writing a character. “They did not want people, especially white people, to think that their lives were so much as touched by anything so dark and brutal as Bigger” (449-450) is another claim Wright makes about issues the Black community might have with Native Son. But he doesn’t go any further. Wright makes no claim and records no thought about what effect that might have on the reader. Which, once again, is the purpose of writing a book. Telling a story that affects a reader, whether purposefully or not. I think that is why Native Son seems somewhat inconclusive as well. Several of us in class asked the question: so what? Where do we go from here? What’s the point of portraying Bigger this way? Wright explains how but not why, which leads the story and the explanation to seem somewhat inadequate.  Wright also completely dismisses any notion of Black pride or culture with the simple line, “Still others projected their hurts and longings into more naive and mundane forms–blues, jazz, swing–and, without intellectual guidance, tried to build up a compensatory nourishment for themselves” (439). Once again, Wright offers no clarification as to why this is bad, why such forms are “naive”, or why Bigger’s lens on Black America is more apt. Finally, Wright makes not a single reference to the role of women in Bigger’s life. The seldom times he mentions rape, which is a massive part of Native Son, he solely discusses rape in the context of its connotations for Black men, which are undoubtedly present, but is entirely dismissive of women. This explanation reaffirms conclusions about Native Son: Wright focuses the story with an incredibly narrow lens, that not only highlights a very particular approach to Blackness, but also dismisses any other approach to those topics.

One thought on “Character and Intent in Native Son”

  1. I really like your point of view. Although Wright offers no clarification, I want to say that he believes people are ‘naive’ because of the fact that Bigger was portrayed as this monstrous human. In native son, we see the way that people suddenly feel sympathy for Bigger after he commits horrific crimes. That naivety of sympathy in a world in which people would never have that emotion for someone who committed the crimes that Bigger did, especially if they were black.

    I also think it was interesting about the idea that women were not written about in regards to Bigger. In Native Son, were see the effect that every woman, from Bigger’s mom to the ones he killed had on him as a whole. Women have typically played an integral role in Black men’s lives and the dismissal definitely shows the narrow lens that Wright has.

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